Being Human in the event of a Pandemic

Human being is a social animal and needs company, interactions and conversations with others. This being of the biggest reason, even though I enjoy traveling solo, I love staying in hostels and meeting people.

On that bright Sunday morning, which was also the D-day of TabooDana’s Delhi Edition, I shared the breakfast table with a German, a Luxembourger and an Englishwoman. Since the spirit of the season is Corona, that also eventually became the topic of our discussion as well.

I got to know that these travelers experienced discrimination, panic stricken behavior from local vendors and plain passers by. They had been jokingly ragged as “you are walking corona virus”. As they wait to hear from their respective embassies and airlines for rescheduled travel advice, I could see growing discomfort on how they were being treated.

TabooDana In Delhi

With this in the background, as I prepped myself for TabooDana‘s listening circle, I got to know that there were 4 drop outs from the registered participants as they were feeling like having caught a flu. That being the case, with slightly dampened spirit, I set out to the event. In my mind, I was cursing the media for the over sensationalized news that has triggered this unnecessary panic.

Nevertheless, it turned out to be an interesting day.

Taboo Dana’s Delhi Edition and my second listening circle on Taboo (the first one being in Kolkatta) was graced by three people. The ones who braved the odds and the paranoia but stepped up to attend the event.

TabooDana Listening Circle
TabooDana at Kunzum Cafe, Delhi

I am in gratitude to them for the love and support. They

After a long day, I returned to my hostel accommodation. As I was resting in the common room, a lady co-hosteler joined me with a glass of tea and a cookie. We exchanged greetings and conversed.

My meeting with Coco
Coco and I

Conversation with Coco

  • I : “Where are you from?”
  • Coco : “I am from Italy”.
  • I : “It is a complete lock down in Italy.”
  • Coco : “I am here in India since January, much before the Corona Virus attack. I was traveling and was supposed to do a Vipassana Course in Jaipur, but they canceled my course. I am not welcome here anymore. I am going back tonight.”
  • I : “I am sorry to hear that and what you had to endure. But, if it makes you feel any better, let me sit next to you and get to know you.”

Coco smiles and her eyes fill up, dropping a tear. I offer to hold her hand and she gladly places her hand in my palm.

We continued our conversation and shared our respective stories of travel and what we have learnt and aspire to do, what we do at present etc. etc.I ended the conversation and exchanged numbers and gave her a hug.

My Two Cents

In all honesty, when media strikes panic in our minds, they really puncture every ounce of confidence, trust and faith in humanity. The consequences of hyped paranoia goes beyond education and precautionary measures.

For Coco, my Italian friend, the origin of her nationality became Taboo. She was no longer treated as a human being. Actually this human being doesn’t even have common flu

All things considered, is the excuse better safe than sorry enough for us lose our faith and our ability to be human?

Something I read which totally made sense

  • We need to wash not just hands
  • We need cleanse our thoughts
  • We need to elevate humanity
  • Before the virus is fought.

Supporting Solo Travelers

Solo Travelers are out there open to experience people and cultures. More often than not, travelers carry way experiences and memories than most living in mundane loops. My conversation and connection with the China Man is something I will cherish all through my life.

Overall, I very strongly feel that there is something we all can do.

There are a few ways I can think we can help or make a difference when we meet someone who might been be a victim of panic driven discrimination.

  • Have a conversation and listen to facts of that person’s journey
  • Offer condolence and consolation. Reach out.
  • Have conversations that can make the person feel better about themselves
  • Use some sense of humor that create an experience of laughter and happiness
  • Just be human. Balance and do the right thing to treat another accordingly

Let’s be kind, human and empathetic and reach out to make a connection that might just be for a lifetime.

The Toilet Saga: How not to use a toilet

Indians have a reputation, even from our own people, that we have a terrible toilet hygiene. Why is that the case? More so, when and where do we learn toilet hygiene?

For starters, it is largely from our homes and then we are conditioned at our educational institutions (from prep to PHD). The latter is usually the culprit for us for accepting poorly maintained toilet. As we grow and are employed in various organisations, this continues to be an issue. Admin teams across organisations at times fight a few losing battles, like the one to apply the best janitorial practices, train people, implement tools, and what not.

As I have been travelling solo and on a budget for a fairly long time now, I observed quite a few things and now I am pressed to call the masculine out there to be mindful of a few things. I would be mentioning about the other gender agnostic observations as well.

First and the foremost : The Toilet Seat

We as “men” have been trained to be in the fire rescue services and at times be Robinhood through our numerous “pee the farthest”, “straight in the hole”, “pee above this height” competitions. In other words, what might have been a matter of pride in those days, is just supremely uncool now.

However, during this backpacking journey of mine, I have came across situations where limited toilet options are available. Few are small ways we can be courteous to others.

  1. if a toilet seat is the only option available in a space, then use it to sit on it and pee comfortably. on the contrary, when you stand and pee, there are often droplets on that seat which isn’t cool and absolutely unhygienic. On masculine pledge I swear, sitting and peeing wont make to any less a man and definitely you wont fall down the drain.
  1. If a toilet seat is down, then PLEASE DO NOT pee over it. Please lift it gently to its position and resort to the die-hard penis pledge that every man is conditioned to follow because that is how a man is supposed to pee! Standing! I have had the misfortune of having to clean up for my use. Ideally if there is clean seat, sit on it and do the honors.

Second point to note : Spitting

  • Spitting Gum into the Urinal or even the wash basin. Absolutely uncool. Imagine somebody has to clean that up. Always spit the gum by wrapping it up in the dustbin. Be considerate to the ones who clean this.
  • Spitting Pan on the wall corners inside the bathroom. It is an ugly sight. Just to let you know most often people curse the ancestral genes of the person who would have done it. Therefore, it better not be you.

Other Vices

  • Smoking in the bathroom and leaving the butt in the toilet. This supremely uncool! Even the sight of a floating cigarette butt is disgusting. It makes anyone else going in there squirm in disgust, like they are inviting themselves into a gas chamber. I mean non-smokers and children alike. And if there is someone with an allergy, you are almost killing them and having them triggered.
  • Sex in the toilet is a great kink. Don’t leave a used condom in that toilet seat. See if there are other traces you can leave that motivate others to try it.
  • Leaving the toilet wet. Tip Tip Barsa Paani is a great song.  I still can’t get over Raveena Tandon in the song sequence. But it is a lousy sight when you enter a toilet wet and have water dripping. Try and leave it dry. And definitely turn off the tap tight. If it still doesn’t work, please let the space manager know about it. It would help save some water.

Toilet Saga : For My Dear Ladies

Menstruation is a blessing of fertility. When you do have to change sanitary pads, please don’t flush the used ones down the toilet seat. A blocked toilet is not a pretty sight and the quality of cuss worded song you accumulate when the reason is a sanitary pad, is definitely not grammy worthy. It would be very kind of you to take it back home and dispose responsibly.

Photo by Vanessa Ramirez

Toilet Saga : On A Serious Note

  1. Be the reason for not passing on urinary infection or any other diseases to other users.
  2. Be the reason for making it comfortable for any form human existence to use a convenience for their personal hygiene.
  3. Be the reason for the world to visit us without having to attend vipassana
  4. Be the reason for “Swach Bharat” to be a personal value than the photo ops cleaning up dry leaves and garbage.
  5. Be the reason for us men not earn the title of “Pig”

And The Disclaimer:

Any resemblance to anyone dead or alive, known to me or otherwise is purely uncoincidental. If this triggers you, then get your act cleaned up.Several animals were observed for their practices before writing this article.

And my Dakshina to the trolls

If you decide to troll on this post, I swear to you on my retort would be choicest words from god’s own country as we practice abuse as a praise to koduganllur bhagavati. Go find out more about Bharani Paatu. Just for general knowledge.

Narmade Har! A Walk for Every Man

I have been travelling for the last 6 months experiencing north and west of India (so far). To be honest, my first 100 days of travel was impulsive. There was greed to move quickly and cover the places I have never been to. I have lots of stories from that period, which I will continue to share.

I began my second round of travel with a leadership intervention called “The Passage of the Being Leader”. It was an 8 day walk over 120 kms on the Uttaravahini stretch where River Narmada flows North to South. 12 men were selected through a careful screening process and were invited for the walk.

All men reached Baroda in anticipation of what’s in store. We acquainted ourselves and to the beginning of building a relationship which would stand the test time. While I don’t want to delve into details of the content, I will try to share with you a synopsis covering the essence of ‘the walk’ which every man should do at least once.

We submitted all our electronic devices including mobile phones and wallets. We also had leave behind anything that seemed heavy. These items were under safe storage until our return.

After that, the group of 13 men huddled for a quick grace and set out on ‘the walk’ with one of us assigned to lead the walk on the banks of river Narmada.

Each day, we had targeted destinations to reach by night. Our nights were usually spent in dharam shala or homes of generous village people who were kind enough to host us, provide us dinner, a place to sleep and freshen up until we set out the following morning. Our daily schedule included several exercises, councils, rituals and gratitude circles. Our diet was vegetarian food, twice a day.

‘The walk’ was grueling. We pushed our limits, walking through a very tough terrain and additional fasting on food, walking without footwear and walking in noble silence. Our discussions in the circles were profound and thought provoking. Our undivided commitment “to leave no man behind” kept the brotherhood in empathy of any challenges we faced and we stayed course to ensure every man on the walk reached the destination.

Some of the themes on the days we walked were “letting go”, “allowing to accept”, “being uninhibited”. Our activities and discussions were around these themes, which guided our direction towards welcoming consciousness and competences of a being leader

The experiences on this walk are unparalleled with any other. One of the best things that happened was the realization that there exists a world within the world where we live, where humanity thrives on trust, compassion, and generosity.

To children, to old men and to women on the routes we walked, we were aliens. We lead very different lives from theirs. There was just one ‘key’ that helped the people from two different worlds to connect. And that key was “Narmade Har!”, the powerful greeting of this trail.

As we touched 8 destination villages and several others, Narmade Har! was used generously as a greeting to everyone who passed us. Seeing us huff, pant and exhausted, these people whose language we didn’t know, would offer us tea, lemon, resting place and anything else we needed to continue our walk.

As about me and from the perspective of my travel something significant happened. I learnt to slow down, significantly. I learnt how to become more aware of my surroundings. I am now able to enjoy and see everything more. I can now truly embrace the spirit of travel. I learnt that the journey is more important, than the destination. My senses are active and tuned in. Dopamine and serotonin levels are definitely higher. I am in gratitude to everything that has happened and is set to happen in future. My journey just got better than before by manifold.

This journey has even changed the way I look, which I am sure is for better and definitely not for worse. I love that I experience an inner state of ‘being inspired’, that I live in an abundance-less is more, that I am in service of others and significantly aware about myself and the elements around me.

I owe it all to “The walk, The river, People of Narmada, My band of brothers and My teacher.”

Narmade Har!

Solo Exploration of Jodhpur

Where to Stay

The season in Rajasthan is from October to February. At this time accommodation is generally on the higher side. There are several hostels in Jodhpur, most which are located closer to the Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) Area. These are all the good names like Zostel, Hostelavie, etc. Some very up market hotel names like 360 degree Panorma at Pal Haveli is also there. An upmarket hotel accommodation is available inside the Mehrangarh Fort.

I stayed at a budget hotel, very close to the Jodhpur Railway station called Hotel Shiva. There were families as well as groups staying in the hotel. Room charges were Rs. 800 per night. No hot water was available and the quality of the beds and facilities is just about average. We would have paid the same amount had we stayed at the hostel. I strongly recommend staying at a hostel. They are close to the tourist places and most of them offer a great view as well.

What to See

In Jodhpur the top most tourist places to see are Umed Bhavan, Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Mandor Fort, Ghantaghar, and Osiyan Temple (about 60 kms away from Jodhpur).

A must do for Slow and Budget Travellers

My focus was primarily the places around Mehrangarh Fort. It took me good 4 hours to explore this fort and its nook and corners. The fort houses a museum of exhibits from the historical era as well. I walked down from the Mehrangarh fort to the Ghantaghar area. I can very convincingly say that this walking trail is a one of the well kept secrets of Jodhpur.

The next day, I walked from Ghantaghar to Nav Chokia. The way leads to the back entrance of the fort, which houses two beautiful and not to be missed water bodies. Nav Chokia is the place to be, if you want to experience the Blue City for what it is. It is ancient, some of the structures are few hundred years old and seem to have stood the test of time. It is a must do if you are traveller by foot, or bike or any other budget format.

Local villagers recommended that I take the walking path to visit Jaswant Thada. This was another worthwhile trail. Jaswant Thada is a nice marble structure near a water body. From this place you can get a mesmerising view of the Jodhpur City and also the view of the fort.

The entrance fee at the fort was about Rs.300 (entry and audio guide). The entrance fee at Jaswant Thada was Rs.30

Since I didn’t visit the Umed Palace I don’t know the entry fee, but I managed to see photographs of the clock collections and the car collections at the palace. As I understand the royal family stays at the palace, therefore a very small part of it converted into a museum of sorts.

Mandor Fort is about 9 kms from city. It is accessible by train. One has to then take an autorikshaw or man driven rikshaw.

Transport

To get to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer, I took a train. The sleeper Class ticket fare was about Rs.575. On a budget travel and in the right weather, AC train can be totally given a miss. People on the train were kind and accommodating. There were no incidents of thieving as well.

Taxi, auto-rikshaw and other local transport is easily available.

I used the hitch hike, shared auto model and by foot to move about. A lot of this can be covered by foot. You don’t have to pay more than Rs.10 or Rs.20 when you use a shared auto.

Uber Service is poor. Taking a regular autorikshaw/TukTuk would be better. Negotiate shamelessly. No one feels bad.

Special Musical Performance

After enjoying Mehrangarh fort on foot for over 4 hours, the mood of the day was to devour some laal mans and garlic naan. The Winding stone paved road and the search for Rajasthan’s more revered dish lead me to a corner building which hoarded sign saying “Live Classical Music Performance”. There were some foreigners trying to make way into the building.

I paused my search for laal mans and stepped into this little performance space. The tourists were beginning to lose patience waiting for the performers and they were as brattish as 5 years olds, trying their hand at the tabla, and ofcourse endless side-eyed selfies with a pout. After a brief wait, 2 young men stepped in with instruments. They laid out the Santoor and the Saarangi. The men explained the instruments.

The Santoor is an instrument with 100 strings and let out sounds which are meditative, pleasant and sets the mood of happiness to the listeners. With Arbaaz on the santoor, he managed to take us through an elating and enthralling experience. Soon his multi-talented brother who accompanied Arbaaz on the Tabla, unpacked a vintage Saarangi. The sarangi is a desert violin, which has 36 strings and connected to 4 main strings bunched with horse hair. It lets out music which is very akin to intense vocal expressions.

I requested if he can play something in Raag Yaman (Kalyani in Classical) and he generously played an outstanding composition to mark an end to the evening. Making my contributions of Rs.300 and thanking them, I set out to find my gastronomic muse, the legendary Laal Mans from the Rajasthani Cuisine.

Eats in the Blue City

For breakfast, we ate a place called Janata, which is brand with over 400 shops. Kachori chaat was very nice. Price Rs.35

On the road towards Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) There is a Shahi Kachori, a corner shop just before the clock tower. Price is Rs.20 from what I remember for both Pyaz (Onion) Kachori and Samosa. While the place is usually over crowded, I felt the items were salty. The stock is always fresh though.

Bombay Tea shop on the same road has some amazing bun maska. Price Rs.15. They serve chai, but I didn’t enjoy what they served. Price of Chai is 10 for what they call as single chai and it is quite a size.

As one passes the Clock tower, one enters the road towards Pal Haveli, there are crowded tea shops who serve Kulad Chai at Rs.30. I found the coffee to be better Justified. Price Rs.15

Just opposite to these tea shops there is a much talked about Omelette shop. You wont miss it. They open after 11.00 am and stay open until night. They have an excellent menu of omlettes. I tried the “Cheese Masala Omlette”. very good and filling indeed and costed me Rs.60. It is well reviewed in tripadvisor and tripto, but it also seemed like a local favourite. It is usually crowded, and you are unlikely to miss it.

I managed to find a place called “Curry’s”. This is the roof top cafe above Zostel, Jodhpur. The order was served without much too much wait. I judge the dish 2.5 on 5.0. It missed the dominance of garlic, which needed to cut through the red chilly powder and the fat in the dish.

Nevertheless, the succulence of the meat (chevon) and their Rajasthani hospitality are worthy of mention. The bill was about Rs.400. With slight disappointment I set out to explore some dessert. Mishrilal’s Doodh Bhandar is a vintage milk and sweet shop near the Clock Tower and is known for a few dishes. The Makahni Lassi and Doodh Jilebi. I pursued the Makhani Lassi which is glass of sweet yogurt with a dollop of home made white butter in it. While I couldn’t finish the entire thing, I must mention Makhani lassi is a wonderful treat that one shouldn’t miss. Price is Rs.40.

Ended both days in gratitude to the numerous people who made my exploration of Mehrangarh Fort, Rajathani music, It’s food and finally in being able to scout and spot the “Blue in the Blue City” and further “Immersing in the Blue” a very memorable travel.

If there are any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. I will happy to answer and connect with you.

Unleashing Columbus In Me

If travel was free, you will never see me again

-Anonymous

This quote has always inspired me in ways unexplained.

One of my greatest fantasies has been to travel the world. Countries close by, countries far away, big regions and small, nook and corners of the world holding treasures of stories and knowledge.

My Appa used to say, one of the things I was never scared about as a child was, sleeping in the open at night. Such was my comfort with ‘Darkness’. It helped me discover that, I had no concept of ‘the unknown’.

I had to fight a hard fight inside and outside my head before I could decide to push the reset button at 40.

Tougher than what I am able to put in words, letting go and allowing myself to accept whatever is coming my way, has been the key to ‘unplug my life’ from noises of entanglement.

After a series of unfortunate personal events, I decided to quit my job, to walk out of my business, to give up my dog to a friend, to let go of my possessions and to set out to on a journey to discover myself.. whatever that means!

‘Late Bloomer’ someone said in awe. So be it.

My journey till now has been to wade through my challenges, sometimes break down incessantly with pain and pick myself up with difficulty to breathe, look in the mirror hoping to heal my broken heart, push my limits in each and every way possible.

The ability to be in awe and amused about surroundings, uninhibited, vulnerable, exploring, experience, to fail and bounce back, to find new possibilities, to have unfiltered fun, to be in goodness, kindness and constant state of gratitude makes me who I am today.

Today, I am available for anything, anyone, anytime, anywhere, as long as there is acceptance for who I am, the way I am…as perfect as imperfect can be.

For the last six months, I set sail on a solo trip.

Here and now I start to share my stories from travel, not just as travel pointers, but hopefully to inspire you to explore life as a package.

Here’s to Unleashing ‘Columbus In Me’

Columbus In Me